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Tennessee State Penitentiary

200 pages1 hour


As Tennessee grew into a modern state, it found itself increasingly beset by crime. In 1831, the legislature approved the construction of the first penitentiary. The pen world was violent and dark, with several major riots, fires, and escape attempts throughout the years. However, the prison also gave birth to a culture of creativity born from despair, with entertainment shows often featuring the biggest names in country music sharing the stage with inmate bands. The best-known pen, “the Castle,” has become a familiar icon to filmgoers, being used in productions like The Last Castle and The Green Mile. Today, the building sits abandoned, facing an uncertain future.

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